A Brief Lesson on How to Use a Russian Supermarket (Sometimes But Not Always)

Having been awake for close to 36 hours, I arrived at Moscow dishevelled, exhausted but excited. No flight delays, no lost luggage, no one sat next to me on the plane…it was perfect. I met our Teacher Support manager, Rita, who swooped me into a taxi and took me to my flat.

My flat was a huge wake-up call to the cushy life I had been living previously.

Firstly, I don’t have a bed. However, I do have three sofas, two of which turn into beds. The third sofa is one that just seems to stare at me pleadingly, whispering “please use me as a sofa and not just a place to throw your clothes and receipts”.

Secondly, I do not have a wardrobe. I have a cupboard where all my clothes go. ALL OF THEM.

Thirdly? I had no bedding. Not even a skimpy blanket. Luckily, Rita was on the case, and told me how to get to Ашанwhich is a Russian version of Walmart or Tesco. It was only a 20 minute walk and I had that weird exhausted hyper energy going on, so I decided to set off out into the unknown, getting lost on the way, ending up in a carpark and somehow miraculously eventually ending up in Ашан.

Following people who looked like they knew what they were doing, I wormed my way through the aisles, googling what the hell a подушка was (a pillow) and searching for a fairly cheap but decent двухспальное одеяло (double duvet). Having sourced this among towels, crockery and cutlery, I headed to the касса (tills) and wheezed out a faint “здравствуйте” to the cashier, who in turn replied with:

“rrr! schschussrrr! nuzhnpakt? tschyadvastadvyatsetschestroobley! platishtampzhlsta”

My Russian comprehension is not the best, and so I tried the classic “smile enthusiastically and nod” and attempted to hand her the amount of money that was showing on her screen. This was not the correct response.

“nytnyt! pmgitedevooshkapzhlsta”

struggling in ashan

And I was whisked away by another Russian to these weird self-service tills where you scan the receipt they gave you and then are prompted to pay there. Okay, I thought, I can deal with this. It’s halfway between self-checkout and person at the till, much like Russian phone plans are halfway between contracts and pay-as-you-go, I can get to grips with that. So I paid and got my receipt and tried to leave the supermarket, ignoring the searing eyes of all the Russian shoppers who were clearly thinking What an idiot! Has she even been to Ashan before? Probably not. Scum.

ashan shopping thing

As I tried to exit the supermarket, the sternest security guard I have ever seen glared at me over the barrier and said something to me in Russian. I laughed nervously. This was also not the correct response as she rolled her eyes and mimed scanning my new receipt on this new scanner which would then open the barrier and I would be free from this low-cost nightmare once and for all. Apart from it wouldn’t work, because of course it wouldn’t work. 

Receiving more death glares from Ms. Full-of-Joy and getting increasingly flustered whilst shouting at her “I’M ENGLISH OKAY I’M SORRY I DON’T UNDERSTAND”, a lovely man came to my rescue and beeped my ticket through for me. The barrier swung open and I scuttled past the world’s most accommodating person with my tail between my legs.

I then decided to get an Uber home because like hell was I risking getting lost again.

Oh, and not all supermarkets are like this. In fact, it seems to be only Ашан thus far.